The careers of Pablo Aimar and Javier Saviola have been uncannily similar. Both emerged through the River Plate youth team in the late 1990’s helping the Buenos Aires side to win the Argentinean championship in 2000. Big money moves to Spain followed with Aimar joining Valencia and Saviola moving to Barcelona both for around £20 million. Initially the Spanish adventure went well. Aimar proved a key component in Valencia’s title win in 2002 as well as a league and Uefa Cup double in 2004. Meanwhile Saviola also made an immediate impact scoring 17 goals in his first season at Camp Nou despite being only 21 years old. International recognition followed with both players becoming regular features in the Argentinean national team.
However around 2005 things began to take a turn for the worse. Despite have netted a respectable 60 goals in 140 games new Barca coach Frank Rijkaard deemed Saviola surplus to requirements and resultantly he spent the next two seasons out on loan with Monaco and Sevilla. The pint sized striker returned to the Nou Camp in for 2006/2007 but was unable to hold down a starting spot and resultantly was released at the seasons end. A free transfer to Real Madrid looked like a positive move but Saviola was little more then a glorified bench warmer making just 16 league appearance in two seasons. Aimar underwent an equally unstable few seasons. A series of persistent injuries resulted in a dip in form and at the start of 06/07 the curly haired playmaker was sold to Real Zaragoza. Things hit an all time low during the next season with Zaragoza suffering shock relegation despite possessing players such a Diego Millito, Roberto Ayalya, Ricardo Oliveria and Aimar himself.
Thus having both started out at River Plate and experiencing success and failure in La Liga Aimar and Saviola find themselves together again at Benfica, a club which has also been struggling of late. The Eagles are the most successful team in Portuguese history having won 31 league titles yet only three of these have been won since 1990. The Eagles have been forced to watch on as rivals Porto have topped the table in 14 of the last 20 seasons. However this season has bought signs of a turnaround. The club moved jointed top of the Portugues La Liga last night after defeating Porto 1-0 thanks to a Saviola goal. The Eagles share top spot with relative minnows Braga whose challenge is expected to ultimately fade and thus Benfica are looking good value for a 32nd title. European results have also been impressive with the Eagles comfortably beating Everton home and away. This upturn is down in no small part to the form of Saviola and Aimar. Pulling the strings in midfield Aimar is currently the leagues top assist provider and was recalled to the Argentina squad for the crucial World Cup qualifiers with Peru and Uruguay in October. Meanwhile Saviola has formed a lethal little and large partnership with Oscar Cardozo scoring 12 goals in 20 games across all competitions and could well enter Diego Maradona’s plans for South Africa.
Admittedly Saviola and Aimar are only playing in the Portuguese League and are unlikely to ever return to the top tier of club football. However if the pair maintain their current level of performance they can rebuild their fallen reputations and prevent themselves from falling into the ‘whatever happened to’ category. Moreover they could play an important part in returning Benfica to the summit of Portuguese football where they feel they belong.
Written by James Martin